More cherished than ever
With unrest in homeland, Easter egg tradition carries extra meaning for Amsterdam's Ukrainian-Americans
AMSTERDAM After emigrating from Ukraine to the Unites States, Martha Swidersky basically lived two lives in Amsterdam.
She was learning English in Amsterdam schools but studying her homeland language and traditions on the weekends.
“Monday through Friday I was American, Saturday and Sunday I was Ukrainian,” Swidersky said.
Her experience isn’t rare for Ukrainian-Americans, a people who cherish their heritage and continue to share traditions like their world-renowned skill at decorating Easter eggs, called pysanky.
Ukrainian-Americans will be showing two short films at the Amsterdam Free Library on Saturday and holding a class — already filled to capacity — to teach others how to make these delicate decorations.
Registration is under way for a second pysanky workshop, taking place March 15.
The annual tradition won’t wane this year despite growing political turmoil in their Eastern European homeland where rulers in the past have worked to eliminate the Ukrainian identity.
Protests that started last fall — during a year when Ukrainians were marking the 80th anniversary of a mass starvation forced on them by Russian Communists — turned deadly over the past several weeks.
It’s a scene that brings heartache to Ukrainian-Americans saddened to see fires, death and destruction in their homeland.
But the generation of Ukrainians knee-deep in the protests are among those who grew up after their country was unshackled from the Soviet Union’s grasp.
And their revolt draws respect and support from many in the U.S.
Anastasia Kostyk, now 25, came to the U.S. at age 6 and brought vivid memories of the city center in Kiev, in a time when it wasn’t filled with smoke and demonstrators.
She said friends in her homeland are fearful and depressed. “They’re just all crying. It’s heartbreaking.”
Kostyk said those involved in the fight to govern their own destiny aren’t destroying the city center and they’ll put it back together if and when the unrest is settled, because they cherish their home.
Meanwhile, senior immigrants like Myron Swidersky, Martha’s father, fear the end to the Olympics spotlight on Russia will lead to a new wave of Russian involvement in Ukraine, a fertile country that longs to push closer to Europe and away from Russia’s grasp.
There were times when the Soviets worked to change the Ukrainian populace, he said, and it was illegal to even speak the Ukrainian tongue.
Being so close to losing one’s heritage further reinforces the desire to maintain traditions, like decorating Easter eggs, and share it with anyone who could help preserve them.
Ukrainians labor over their Easter eggs, applying wax to block dye from coloring some portions while adding color to non-waxed parts. The process continues with new additions of wax, then more dye-dipping until the end product is revealed.
For Ukrainians, they are used as gifts, most often added to Easter baskets. A traditional Ukrainian Easter basket isn’t filled with candy.
They contain the ornate eggs, Easter bread, kovbasa sausage or ham, farm cheese, butter, salt and pepper, a condiment made of horseradish and beets, a candle, and a hard-boiled egg that’s cut in half. The cut ensures the inside of the egg is also blessed.
Martha Swidersky learned pysanky from her mother, who learned it from her father.
Today, they enjoy the use of a stylus to paint detailed lines on the eggs, but Martha Swidersky said her mother learned using tiny aglets — the tips of a shoelace — because her father was a cobbler.
The March 15 workshop is being held at the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 24 Pulaski St. People interested in participating can preregister by calling the Amsterdam Free Library at 842-1080.
The workshop costs $25. The cost includes pysanky materials to create Easter eggs as well as lunch. Family members can bring a youngster to watch them make the eggs and enjoy lunch for $15.
This Saturday’s workshop, being held at the Amsterdam Free Library at 28 Church St., is sold out. But admission for the brief films being played before the pysanky session is free. The two films will run from 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.